We need to keep the conversation going
“When you’re teaching, it’s not just about you. It’s mostly about the students”, says Bruce Mutsvairo, professor and chair media, politics and the Global South in the department of Media and Culture Studies. In his view, discussion with others is paramount to both research and education.
Mutsvairo returned to his alma mater Utrecht University last year after a career in journalism and academia, where he worked at various universities in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. In taking an interdisciplinary approach, he focuses on media developments in and in relation to non-Western societies.
“Since I was young, I knew I wanted to become a journalist. I was always very curious. Even when people gave satisfying answers on my questions, I kept on wondering if there was another way of looking at the issue. At University College Utrecht, where I did my Bachelor’s Studies, I found a perfect match. You leave the College with the skills to ask more and more questions, to keep on probing. After graduation, I then went to Cardiff to study journalism and eventually started to work for the Associated Press. My focus was always on international issues. I guess that focus eventually brought me to think about inclusivity. When working in the international arena, you are never on your own, but you meet people from all over the world who have different ideas to yours. That made me realise that it’s never just about you. There are always others to consider.”
As teachers, we should think outside the box.
“In my teaching, I am always thinking of what the students would like to learn. I know that they are interested in inclusivity, and that’s how I choose my guest lecturers, for example. I always look for people from diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, class, gender, and so forth. If you want to teach a good course, you need to think further than your own network. When you’re teaching, it’s not about you. It’s about the students. You need to think about how to make the university more accessible and include people also from less well-off backgrounds.”
“If I’m teaching a course such as the one on participatory politics and media, which I did at the University College in the Spring semester, I think that views from the society at its broadest are needed. We need to listen to people who are community leaders as well, not only to academicians like ourselves. I prefer to have a broad concept of the word ‘expert.’ Everyone is an expert in life. You don’t need a degree for that. As teachers, we should think outside the box. That’s what young people do very naturally. They are from a generation that is very sensitive to inequality. They all acknowledge that they are studying in an elite place, yet at the same time they are very aware of the need for inclusivity.”
Agency of students
“I think students should have a bigger role in the class. The question is, to what extend this should happen. There already is a student-led course at University College Utrecht. Now they are asking to be involved in the design of the whole curriculum. I am not too sure about that. We need to allow a dialogue for it. Maybe that won’t happen today but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the future. I do think that they should perhaps have a say in the learning goals. We teachers sometimes think that we are the only ones, who know what knowledge is. In my view, that can be debatable. Deciding on what knowledge is should be a continuous dialogue between students, teachers and other stakeholders, particularly in this continuously disruptive society we live in today. No one has all the answers.”
“I’m not a radical. I don’t like being radical. I believe everything is possible through dialogue, and I don’t think we should change everything and right now. But I want to listen to the students, and if they convince me - why not? I like to be convinced. I want to be reasonable and pragmatic at the same time. You just have to allow time. We don’t need to change everything, but we can experiment. Why not plan some years ahead and say, for example, that we design one or two courses together next year or the year thereafter and then see how it goes. Change needs time, also at the university. It is a gradual process. We should keep on talking, keep the conversation going. We all have to be patient.”
Change is difficult everywhere.
“Change is difficult everywhere. We all feel comfortable with what we know, myself included. But we can push ourselves just a bit further and question whether we should be satisfied with things as they are. There may be more options if we open our horizons. We may discover quite other things. As for myself, I keep on asking myself what I am doing here. Also our roles at the university are subject to change, as the society around us changes. We should not let ourselves be restricted by our own limitations.”
We should not let ourselves be restricted by our own limitations.
“It often seems that people are not willing to wait. We have grown impatient. All the technologies have certainly contributed to it. We expect to have an immediate answer on everything. That’s not how a dialogue works. It takes time. Talking demands patience. There’s no rush. The change doesn’t need to be direct. Look at the American civil rights movement: It didn’t happen over a fortnight. In the academia, we are also under pressure. There is a deadline for everything. There is too little time to think or even read. If someone sends you an email, they expect an answer in the next few minutes. It’s crazy.”
“People sometimes think that you have a dialogue and then it’s done. It is important that the university has started the conversation and is acknowledging that diversity and inclusion are important. I hope that the future leaders will support embracing difference too. We are listening to each other and trying to find a way to become a better society. That’s the dialogue we should keep on going, a healthy one. That also means that those who are opposed to diversity or inclusion should be listened to. Do not shut anyone out. We don’t want a ‘you are wrong, I am right’ situation. That’s not how dialogue works.”
In September another interview with Bruce Mutsvairo was published, read it online.